Iraq Isis Crisis: Shiite Leaders Scramble to Replace Nouri al-Maliki as PM
Mehdi Army fighters loyal to Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr march during a military-style training in NajafReuters

Senior Shiite leaders in the Iraqi administration are clamouring for a new prime minister as Nouri al-Maliki, widely seen as a divisive figure, has failed to stop the lightning advance of Sunni Islamist militants.

The leaders are reportedly mulling a new government replacing al-Maliki to help Iraq battle the crisis that is tearing the country apart along sectarian lines.

Their efforts have been strengthened by US President Barack Obama's latest remarks on the crisis although he stopped short of explicitly calling for a leadership change in Baghdad.

Refusing to endorse al-Maliki in his White House address, he said: "Only leaders that can govern with an inclusive agenda are going to be able to truly bring the Iraqi people together and help them through this crisis."

"We've said publicly, that whether he [al-Maliki] is prime minister or any other leader aspires to lead the country, that there has to be an agenda in which Sunni, Shiite and Kurd all feel that they have the opportunity to advance their interest through the political process."

A New York Times report said "intensive jockeying" has already begun in political circles to find a replacement for al-Maliki. US officials are said to be part of the exercise.

Excessive marginalisation of non-Shiite groups by the Iraqi premier over the years has been cited as one of the key factors for the Sunni-dominated Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) militants' bid to seize power.

At least three senior Iraqi political figures, all hailing from the Shiite community, just like al-Maliki, are reportedly being considered for the post.

According to an Associated Press report, citing Iraqi political leaders who are familiar with the ongoing process, former vice-president and French-educated economist Adel Abdul-Mahdi, and former premier Ayad Allawi are said to be the hot favourites to replace al-Maliki.

The names of Shiite lawmakers from the Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council party such as Ahmad Chalabi and Bayan Jabr are also being mentioned.

According to analysts, whoever the new leader, he must quickly find a way to contain the crisis while also attempting to convince the Sunni community and ethnic Kurds that he can hold Iraq together.